Pezeshkian Wins Iranian Election, Replacing President Who Died in Helicopter Crash

Melanie Sun
By Melanie Sun
July 7, 2024Middle East
Pezeshkian Wins Iranian Election, Replacing President Who Died in Helicopter Crash
Iran's newly-elected President Masoud Pezeshkian (C), former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L), and Hassan Khomeini (R), grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, visit Khomeini's shrine in the south of Tehran, Iran, on July 6, 2024. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran’s electoral authority announced on July 6 that Masoud Pezeshkian of the regime’s “moderate” faction has won the presidential election in the Islamic Republic.

The election comes 50 days after the late President Ebrahim Raisi of the hardline Islamic conservative faction, accompanied by numerous officials, died in a helicopter crash, leaving his first vice president Mohammad Mokhber as interim president. Before the crash, an election had not been due until 2025.

The presidency is not the most powerful position in Iran’s Islamic theocracy. As the chief executive and leader of the government, the president is appointed by election, but overseeing the nation’s security forces, clerics, judiciary, media, education, and foreign and economic policy is the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who remains the head of the state, and holds ultimate power as the Islamic Republic’s political and religious leader.

Under the constitution of Iran’s Shiite theocracy, the supreme leader also has a life tenure. The state is ruled in accordance with Islamic or Sharia law.

In the results announced by the Iranian government, Mr. Pezeshkian received 53.6 percent of the votes (16.3 million ballots), while hardliner rival Saeed Jalili was said to have secured 44.3 percent of the votes (13.5 million ballots).

Mr. Jalili, 58, was Iran’s top nuclear negotiator under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from 2007 to 2013. Mr. Ahmadinejad, after he was barred from running, said he was no longer supporting any candidate in the election.

Mr. Pezeshkian posted on X after his win was announced, even though the social media platform is banned in Iran.

“Dear people of Iran, the elections are over and this is just the beginning of our cooperation,” he wrote. “The difficult path ahead will not be smooth except with your companionship, empathy and trust. I extend my hand to you and I swear on my honor that I will not leave you alone on this path. Do not leave me alone.”

Voter Turnout

The final result was announced after two extensions of voting hours beyond the official close of voting at 6 p.m. As was the case in past elections, the Iranian authorities extended the elections until midnight.

Commending what he called a “high turnout” despite a campaign “orchestrated by the enemies of the Iranian nation to induce despair and a feeling of hopelessness,” Mr. Khamenei congratulated Mr. Pezeshkian on his win and expressed his expectations for the new president to continue with Mr. Raisi’s policies.

According to Iran’s interior ministry, over 30 million out of 61 eligible voters cast votes in the runoff presidential election. Some 600,000 ballots were spoiled, including protest votes rejecting both candidates.

No candidate in the runoff, triggered after a first round of voting on June 28, got more than 50 percent of votes cast. That initial vote saw the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic—over 60 percent of Iranian voters abstained from the snap election.

Voter turnout has been plunging in Iran. Public support for the regime’s clerical rule has eroded amid growing internal discontent over the years of economic malaise and security crackdowns that have stifled public dissent.

Numerous nations, as well as the United Nations, have imposed sanctions against the Iranian government, linked to its funding of domestic nuclear and missile programs and Islamist terrorist organizations in the region.

Only 48 percent of voters participated in the 2021 election that brought Mr. Raisi to power, and turnout was 41 percent in a parliamentary election in March.

Who Is Pezeshkian?

Mr. Pezeshkian, 69, is a trained heart surgeon born to an Iranian Azeri father and a Kurdish mother. He lost his wife and one of his children in a car accident in 1994. He raised his surviving two sons and a daughter alone, opting to never remarry.

The surgeon served as health minister under former President Mohammad Khatami from 2001 to 2005. Since 2008, he has been active as a longtime lawmaker from Tabriz in northwestern Iran.

He ran for president in 2013 and 2021, but was ultimately barred during the 2021 race that Raisi won.

Presidential candidates and election certifications are approved by the 12-member Guardian Council, which also must approve all legislation passed by the parliament.

Iran’s unelected supreme leader retains ultimate control over the council, as he remains in charge of appointing six Islamic jurists. Six more are nominated by the judiciary and approved by the parliament.

Once the result of the runoff is approved by Mr. Khamenei in the coming days, Mr. Pezeshkian will take the oath of office before parliament in Tehran.

While campaigning, Mr. Pezeshkian pledged to promote the moderate faction’s approach to foreign policy that was characteristic of former moderate President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, under whom Iran signed its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. That was the pact that U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, before reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Mr. Pezeshkian has said he will attempt to revive the 2015 nuclear pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with the Americans, Europeans, English, Russians, and Chinese. He also promised to foster greater liberalization and political pluralism, but keep such reforms in line with the principles of the Islamic Republic and its constitutional framework.

Iran’s Political Factions

Mr. Pezeshkian was the only candidate outside of the hardline conservative faction in Iranian politics to make the approved six-candidate ballot, after dozens of other candidates were barred from running.

The remaining reformist voices in Iran are from various competing factions that generally work within the framework of the regime, including the moderates, the progressives, the centrists, and those from the Islamic left.

The remaining opposition voices in Iran include many regime clerics who have been active since the Islamic Republic’s birth after the 1979 anti-capitalist revolution: Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister and presidential candidate; Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of Parliament and presidential candidate; and Mr. Khatami.

World Responds

The leaders of Russia, Pakistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia were quick to acknowledge Mr. Pezeshkian’s proclaimed win.

The U.S. State Department also acknowledged Mr. Pezeshkian’s appointment but added that it did not view Iran’s elections as free or fair, and that its Iran-facing policy would remain unchanged.

“We have no expectation these elections will lead to fundamental change in Iran’s direction or more respect for the human rights of its citizens,” a spokesperson for the department said. “As the candidates themselves have said, Iranian policy is set by the supreme leader.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times